African countries join hands to transform livelihoods

An Africa-led financial mechanism started in 2013 has achieved remarkable results by assisting African nations to address critical agricultural challenges, natural resources management, and climate change, while addressing resilience to livelihoods

By Festus Akinnifesi
Published: Wednesday 30 January 2019
Small-scale fish farming in Kenya. Credit: Tony Karumba, FAO Kenya Small-scale fish farming in Kenya. Credit: Tony Karumba, FAO Kenya

The Kigali 2018 Africa Continental Trade Agreement, merging 55 countries into a single market, is a major game changer. The Africa Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the context in which the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) work and that of its partners will transform lives in the continent over the next decade. The multi-faceted and enormous challenges that Africa faces — hunger and malnutrition, rural poverty, youth unemployment, migration, climate change and poor infrastructure — are surmountable. Sufficient development solutions — technological, human and financial that could be effectively deployed — do exist in Africa and elsewhere. This article highlights a shining model of how an Africa-led financial mechanism has helped transform lives across the continent.

The Africa Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF) was launched at the FAO Regional Conference in June 2013 to unlock the potential of using pooled and catalytic funds from African countries to support Africa-to-Africa initiatives. It was mainly funded by the Republic of Equatorial Guinea ($30 million) and Republic of Angola ($10 million), with a symbolic contribution from a group of African civil society associations. Facilitated by the FAO at near-zero overhead, the ASTF has a notable agility in responding to priorities and needs in the continent. It is an effective catalytic fund, seed-money or gap-fund for removing technical barriers, scaling up proven practices and responding rapidly and decisively to emerging needs and challenges in Africa, as well as to leverage ongoing initiatives in order to achieve transformative impacts.

Highlights of results from the field

Over the past five years, this African-led funding mechanism has achieved remarkable results. ASTF has supported 18 projects in over 40 African countries, benefitting hundreds of thousands of rural people, women, youth and children. It enabled FAO to assist African countries in addressing critical agricultural challenges relating to food security and nutrition, natural resources management, and climate change, while addressing gender and women empowerment and resilience to livelihoods.

At the regional level, the capacity of southern African countries in controlling threats to food safety, plant and animal pests has been strengthened. Agricultural productivity and trade has improved. Approximately 4,500 experts from eight Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries have been able to enhance their capacity to tackle trans-boundary pests and diseases through training and coordination support, which has enabled the region's successful response to the fall armyworm invasion.

In West Africa, ASTF supported decent rural employment opportunities for young people through sustainable aquaculture and cassava value chains. It also supported rapid intervention projects in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. It developed and financed projects that implemented effective prevention and control mechanisms to improve the monitoring and response to pests and diseases such as autumn worms, fruit flies, Tuta absoluta, etc.

Likewise, Central African countries received support to strengthen food security in urban areas. In East Africa, support on nutrition-sensitive agriculture helped improve nutrition and created employment opportunities for young people.

At the country level, there are some notable examples.  

In South Sudan, nearly 200,000 families in conflict-affected areas enhanced their nutritional intake. About 560,000 animals were protected from risk of disease outbreak thanks to a country-wide vaccination initiative, thereby protecting assets and building resilience for 19,000 households. In Malawi and Mali, 2,600 farm families and over 1,200 women and youth were empowered to effectively engage in food production and marketing activities, and to start up personal businesses, creating 400 new jobs. An additional 8,500 households in Malawi were supported to recover from flood disaster in 2015. Likewise, about 12,000 rural smallholders in Ethiopia, including women and youth, increased their income due to better access to inputs and the promotion of livelihood diversification strategies.

Nearly 160,000 vulnerable households in Niger improved their agricultural productivity and food security thanks to quality input distribution and investments in livestock and small-scale irrigation infrastructure. In the Central Africa Republic, 16,000 households had increased access to agricultural inputs, thereby increasing their rice and groundnut production. Food security assessment and analyses was also supported. More than 4,000 farm families in Ebola Virus Disease-affected communities in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone doubled their rice and vegetable productivity thanks to loan schemes and access to critical inputs and training. Household earnings in Sierra Leone increased from zero to $50-100 per week.

Over 1,500 female and male youth in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda improved their income and access to food through decent job creation and stronger productive capacities in poultry, egg production and aquaculture value chains. More than1,000 women in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia and Eswatini (Swaziland) were empowered through training in commercialisation and value chain development, farming techniques, pest management, and access to credit and financial services.

Money begets money

As a catalytic fund, the ASTF projects have major spin-off effects and have helped mobilise larger new partnerships and financial support from partners at the country level. For instance, in Malawi, the European Union funded two FAO projects in Malawi totaling to about $45 million, mainly to scale up the impact of ASTF project approaches to 172,000 more beneficiaries in the country. A similar response is noted in other countries. For instance, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Liberia, Luxembourg and UNHCR in Mali, and Norway in Niger, provided additional resources amounting to a combined total of over $2 million to enable FAO to replicate the experiences of ASTF projects to reach greater number of beneficiaries.

Looking to the future

Despite ASTF’s achievements, a large number of beneficiaries are still waiting to be supported. The revitalised ASTF aims to expand the size of the fund, and attract a critical mass of contributors from African countries, and its partners. This involves two innovative financial modalities including: a) Africa to Africa funding window — to support ‘Africa-to-Africa’ initiatives as well as in-country needs of the contributing African countries; b) Africa's Partners funding window — which enables ASTF to receive contributions from resource partners and ‘friends of Africa’. For instance, bilateral and multilateral donors, development banks, the private sector and other capital providers, including through de-risking of blended financing and agri-invest opportunities.

The revitalised ASTF will support accelerated and targeted actions for implementing the SDGs by African countries, with a view to achieving collective outcomes at the regional level.In addition, it will strengthen intra-Africa exchange and sharing of development solutions.

The author is Executive Coordinator, Multipartner Initiatives, Business Development and Resource Mobilization Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy 

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